Remembering Betsy

Last night I got together with a wonderful old friend I hadn't seen in nearly ten years. During our discussion, she mentioned a woman with whom we had both attended summer camp had died. It's always such odd news to hear of the death of someone you haven't thought about or seen in many many years. Suddenly and unexpectedly, you miss them.

Today as I was running, my thoughts turned to Betsy and my memories of her: shockingly long bright red hair, her nose ring (which really seemed like something odd and amazing when I was a twelve-year-old girl), and her incredible mountaineering and canoeing skills. I strained to keep running against a brutally cold and strong wind along the Hudson River, but I never thought of stopping, or just turning to go back home, because I had a goal and I wouldn't give up. With my thoughts on Betsy, I realized that's not how I used to be.

In 1984, I had been away at summer camp for nearly four weeks, and it was Saturday morning of parents' weekend. I was at the canoeing department, working on my landings, and anxiously awaiting my parents' arrival. My tandem landings (where you paddle your canoe at an angle towards the dock, then at the last minute, turn it so you end up "parked" along side) were all that I needed to complete my Boatswain, the first rank given by the canoeing department to recognize a camper's canoeing skills. I had been working on it every day since camp began.

All I needed was to master 3 out of 5 tandem landings on each side of the dock and I would have it. Betsy was in the canoe with me, she was a counselor. All morning I had struggled with my landings, and when my parents arrived I told Betsy I wanted to stop and finish another time, but she wouldn’t let me.

I can’t even remember what she said, or how she said it. I just remember hating her, thinking she was the meanest person in the world, so cruel!, and I remember trying to hold back tears as I saw my parents walking down the path towards me. With Betsy’s insistence and encouragement, I finished my landings, and I remember the feeling of relief when it was done, and the happiness I felt as I left the canoe and Betsy behind.

Years later, I realized how important that experience had been, and how much I learned by not stopping just because I wanted to. There are only a handful of people I can identify who were responsible for such transformative moments of my young adult life, and Betsy G. was one.